Three dead and inspiring commander
seriously wounded: A terrifyingly graphic despatch from the Afghan frontline
By Richard Pendlebury and Jamie Wiseman
Last updated at 12:52 PM on 07th July 2009
They caught us out in the open,
some way from cover and at almost point-blank range. But for their poor marksmanship, that
would have been that.
We were in the front section of six men, half-way across
a ploughed field, when automatic fire from at least two Taliban fighters about 80 yards to
our front right came crackling past us.
'Go firm!' someone shouted, meaning that we should get
down immediately. Then, a heartbeat later, with our noses in the dust and the crackle
intensifying: 'We can't stay here. Get to cover, move, move, move!'
Troops blast their way through compounds in the Green Zone
So we staggered up under the weight of our packs and
ran. Our luck held, we made the treeline ahead of us, plunged through a screen of bamboo
and slid waist-deep into a filthy irrigation canal.
A few feet away on the far bank, the mud walls of a
compound loomed. On the other side of the wall, the Taliban were exchanging fire with the
rest of 6 Platoon, B Company 2nd Mercian Regiment, who were pinned down out in the field.
As we hauled ourselves onto the far bank of the
waterway, our own situation clarified.
It was not a good position to be in. We had no idea how
many of the enemy were a wall's width away. With a civilian Afghan interpreter in tow,
alongside photographer Jamie Wiseman and myself, three of our party of six were unarmed.
Platoon leader Lieutenant Jem McIlveen turned and put
his fingers to his lips to signal silence. The Taliban were that close. 'Do you want a
gun?' hissed the sergeant major, who had a pistol as well as his rifle. 'I'm serious - do
you want a gun?'
'No, I don't think so, thank you.' 'Well, if you change
your mind, just ask. We are in the ****ing s**t here.'
Out in the field, the platoon had brought to bear at
least one belt-fed general-purpose machine gun - known to the soldiers as the 'jimpy' -
and were hammering away at targets to our immediate left.
It was then that the sergeant major, a grizzled
49-year-old sniper specialist, made his move. As I watched him, he took a hand grenade
from a pouch, stepped forward to where the wall of the compound turned a corner and lobbed
it over the parapet.
There was tremendous bang, a swirl of dust and the
firing from inside the compound ceased.
'Wahoo! Go get 'em, Diamonds!' a Mercian yelled from the
field, referring to the regiment's diamond shoulder flash. The tide had turned.
Moments later, an Apache attack helicopter swooped in to
strafe a compound nearby, where three Taliban with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) had
been spotted. Swinging round, the Apache then launched a Hellfire missile.
Trench warfare: Troops arrange defensive positions after being
pinned down by the Taliban
This was just one incident of many in the first day of
combat for 6 Platoon.
They were the spearhead infantry unit in the main thrust
of Operation Panther's Claw, the biggest British ground offensive against the Taliban.
The troops are operating in the Malgir and Babaji areas,
south west of Gereshk, which have been controlled by the Taliban for almost two years.
Mail photographer Jamie and I were embedded with the
platoon, as they experienced firefight after firefight, pressing on aggressively through a
number of ambushes, in countryside infested with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) - the
lethal homemade bombs that have claimed so many British lives.
The first hours had gone well. But as daylight faded, B
Company began to take casualties.
By nightfall three men were dead: one Mercian, one Light
Dragoon, and an attached Afghan soldier. At least eight others were listed as wounded or
suffering from heat exhaustion, several of them in a serious condition.
This is the story of that first day of combat, from the
perspective of a British frontline infantry platoon.
Chickens, sheep and goats picked their way among 6
Platoon as they slept in a farmyard on the eve of battle.
If we get contacted (fired upon) I want you to lay down
as much firepower as you can. They're going to be the ones who have to keep their heads
down, not us.'
Hundreds of B company troops are pictured as they advance into the
battle ground on the second day of the advance into the Green Zone
We did not have long to wait. A little after 10.30am the
platoon was crossing an irrigation channel, lined with trees, when bursts of accurate
AK-47 fire began to crack past us.
The most exposed soldier, Lance Corporal Gaz James,
launched himself neck-deep into the water as his colleagues went to ground along the bank
and began to seek the shooters.
One of the jimpy machine guns opened up, deafeningly,
next to me, at a compound 500 metres across a field. Then the rest of the platoon began to
blaze away, calling out sightings and warnings.
'Two possible firing points.'
'But the respite was brief. An interpreter who had a
radio to monitor Taliban communications reported that they were about to attack again. The
platoon finished crossing the canal and moved on.
We'd travelled just a few hundred yards when a fusillade
of small arms fire broke out on our left flank. 'Contact from front. One single firer,'
came the message down the line. Our sniper moved up the column and someone remarked: 'He's
about to give the Taliban the good news.'
Hot work: already more than 40c with 'dust devil'
whirlwinds dancing across the parched, claustrophobic landscape. The platoon, each
carrying at least 55kg on their backs, as well as their weapons, pressed on.
More Taliban radio chatter, deciphered by our
interpreter. They would attack 'in ten minutes'. An NCO's reply was typically pugnacious:
'What, are they having a f***ing teabreak? Bring it on!'
They tried to. At 12.28pm there was another burst of
inaccurate fire. But half an hour later came the ambush in which six of us were cut off
and the firefight, which, as I described earlier, ended with the British grenade and
After it was over, the sergeant major called for 'dry fags'. Alas, I cannot name him
because 'my missus thinks I am safe in an office in Camp Bastion [the British HQ in
'Good work, boys,' said Lt McIlveen. I noticed that on
the back of his rucksack he had sewn the motto: 'Stand Firm. Strike Hard.'
An hour later the platoon was still lying in the shade
along the irrigation channel. Taliban radio suggested their fighters were trying to
surround us. 'Charming,' drawled one soldier.
As the tension grew, a man in traditional white 'dish
dash' robe was seen moving along the opposite treeline. 'Shall I drop him?' asked the
The lieutenant and his NCOs studied the figure through
telescopic sights: 'No, he's an old man. A stubborn old man who won't leave the
With reports coming in that the insurgents were 'ready
to attack' us, the lieutenant decided we had to change our position. Immediately.
To avoid being channelled into another likely ambush
point, or triggering IEDs in doorways of buildings - a new Taliban tactic - we would blow
our way through the perimeter of a large compound that could be seen through the trees.
Engineers placed a mine against the nearest wall and lit
the fuse. The terrific concussion left a hole large enough for a man to climb through,
past a fiercely blazing stook of cannabis - stockpiled by the Taliban - which had been
ignited by the blast.
A soldier takes in news of casualties and the deaths of colleagues a few
hundred metres away
Half the platoon pushed on towards a wooded water
channel. As they did so, the interpreter announced the Taliban had 'eyes on' (had made
visual contact) and were 'ready to attack'. Within seconds all hell broke loose again.
AK-47s crackled and at least one jimpy opened up in
reply, interspersed with several explosions.
Silence followed, broken only by the shouts of squaddies
and the crowing of a rooster. Then the battle began again and a green flare rose in the
blue sky, above the sunflowers, to mark the enemy's location.
Our section caught up with the others in the wood and
the situation became more clear.
The rest of the platoon, under Sgt Lee Brough, a
father-of-three from Nottingham, was positioned astride the irrigation channels, partially
shielded by trees. Jimpy gunners were using the canals as trenches; up to their thighs in
muddy water, the weapons resting on the bank.
'More men are coming to help you,' the Taliban were
telling their own frontline. Then came the bad news that was to throw a pall over the
day's successes began to arrive over the radio from 5 Platoon.
A Rocket Propelled Grenade strike: casualties.
'Our lads?' someone asks anxiously from the canal.
A calm, clear voice came across the radio. What he said
stunned into silence the soldiers who heard him.
'I need a heli(copter). I think I have lost a leg.'
An RPG had hit one of the vehicles supporting the
Mercians' advance. Private Robert Laws, 18, of B Company 2nd Mercians, was killed and five
Communications traffic began to increase. 'Eight minutes
to MERT,' (medical evacuation helicopter).
'Keep eyes on our west. They could be moving round.'
'Boys, f***ing concentrate!' On time, an RAF Chinook
clattered in low, just as an Apache delivered yet another strafing run on the insurgents
to our front.
Almost immediately further bad news arrived via the
radio. Two new casualties from a massive IED, both Category A - the most serious level. We
had heard the deep boom a few minutes earlier.
One of them, Lance Corporal David Dennis, 29, of the
Light Dragoons, died before he could be evacuated.
The men had been helping to get the initial RPG
casualties loaded on to the Chinook and were blown up as they walked back to their
'One of them's the OC, I'm afraid.' announced the radio
He was referring to the Officer Commanding of B Company,
Major Stewart Hill, an inspirational leader and a man of great charm and good humour, who
had been seriously wounded in the blast.
Before going into battle he had asked his men: 'Is it to
be the insurgents' summer or will it belong to us? Of course, it's going to be ours.'
Then he had quoted Field Marshal Montgomery: 'Decision
in action; calmness in crisis.' His men had not let him down. Now he is receiving the
first-class medical care he needs. I wish him a swift recovery.
Among the casualties were other men I had chatted to
only that morning.
There was the young officer who had allowed me to charge
my laptop from the battery of his Spartan armoured vehicle; the senior NCO who'd made sure
I had an extra litre of drinking water; the 18-year-old private with the cherubic face,
who had joined only in April.
He had said to me: 'I wasn't very good at school so I
joined the Army. Me mum was furious I was coming here.'
All casualties; all within the last hour of battle as
the light faded.
Sgt Lee Brough from 6 Platoon still needed to get 'the
boss' Lt McIlveen and the other men back to the cover of the water course before darkness.
Four smoke bombs were fired from a mortar to cover their
withdrawal and, amid furious bursts of fire, they made it safely back across the field.
The platoon rallied in a cucumber patch surrounded by
trees. For a minute they rested, the strain of combat etched on their faces. But no time
for introspection; we had to get moving, to reach a 'safe' position to make camp.
As we trudged, hundreds of bats swirled about our heads,
feeding on the millions of mosquitoes which feasted on the soldiers.
After an hour, a green flare rose into the night sky
from the farm compound where we would be spending the night.
Miraculously, it seemed to me at least, 6 Platoon was
intact after a bloody day for its parent company.
'These young lads are just incredible,' said Lt
McIlveen, as his men bedded down under the stars. 'They suck it in and go back for more.'
Today they will indeed be back for more in the
frontline. They have lost comrades - yesterday, the death of a Welsh Guardsman attached to
the Light Dragoons was also announced - but the offensive goes on.
BBC 6th. July 2009
Hundreds honour dead UK soldiers
Silence fell over Wootton Bassett as the cortege passed
Hundreds of people have held a one-minute silence in a
Wiltshire market town to pay their respects to two British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
The bodies of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, 39, from Oxfordshire, and
Trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, from Devon, were flown to nearby RAF Lyneham earlier.
A private memorial was held before the coffins passed through Wootton
Meanwhile, two soldiers killed in Afghanistan on Saturday were named
as Pte Robert Laws and L/Cpl David Dennis.
Shortly after 1100 BST on Monday, the C-17 Globemaster transporting
the the bodies of Col Thorneloe and Trooper Hammond landed at the RAF base.
The families of the two men said their own private goodbyes during a
memorial at a chapel on the site, before the cortege proceeded to Wootton Bassett.
Col Thorneloe and Trooper Hammond died during a major UK
Later, hundreds of British Legion veterans, shopkeepers and local
residents stood in silence as the cars carrying the Union flag-draped coffins slowly drove
along the high street.
BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the head of the Army,
General Sir Richard Dannatt, a personal friend of Col Thorneloe, was in Wootton Bassett to
pay tribute to "the best of the best".
Col Thorneloe, from Kirtlington, near Oxford, of the 1st Battalion
Welsh Guards in Aldershot, and Trooper Hammond, from Plymouth, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment,
were travelling as part of a resupply convoy when a bomb blew up their armoured vehicle on
Six other soldiers were injured in the blast near Lashkar Gah in
Prince Charles and Gordon Brown both paid tribute to the men last
The men died as UK and US troops launched a major offensive against
Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan.
Col Thorneloe was the most senior British army officer to be killed
in action since Lt Col Herbert "H" Jones died at Goose Green on the Falklands on
28 May 1982.
Since 2001, a total of 174 UK service personnel have died in
Tributes have also been paid to two other soldiers who died on
Saturday in separate Taliban attacks.
Pte Laws, from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, died from a
rocket-propelled grenade and L/Cpl Dennis, from The Light Dragoons, was killed in an
A third soldier, known to be from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards,
died on Sunday in a blast near Gereshk in Afghanistan's Helmand province. He has not yet
Monday 27th July
British Korean Veterans' Association
Annual Service of Commemoration and Parade
Time - 11.30
Venue - Leonard Cheshire Amphitheatre and BKVA Garden
Contact: Mr. Frank Ellison (Hon. Sec BKVA) on 01457 793699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Israel shelled UK war graves in Gaza
Israeli shelling has caused heavy damage to the Commonwealth war graves in Gaza City,
where British and Australian soldiers were buried after dying in the First World War.
Photo: TIM BUTCHER
Representatives of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission expressed their
"distress'' after The Daily Telegraph sent them photographs of the latest
damage at Gaza War cemetery.
The damage is much worse than that caused by Israeli forces in 2006 in an incident that
briefly soured British-Israeli relations and led eventually to the Jewish state paying
£90,000 in compensation.
A commission spokesman said a full damage assessment would be made as soon as it was
once again safe to visit the site, which is north and east of Gaza City.
The Daily Telegraph found at least 287 headstones were damaged, some shattered
beyond repair, as the cemetery was hit by at least five Israeli shells and its grass
singed in places by white phosphorus.
It is believed at least one unexploded shell is still under the soil at the cemetery,
meaning no visitors can be allowed until it has been dealt with.
The staff who tend the cemetery, normally an oasis of calm and well-maintained order in
the otherwise chaotic Gaza Strip, had to flee for their lives.
"I sent all the others away because the shelling got too heavy," said Ibrahim
Jerradeh, 71, who was made MBE after tending the grave since 1958.
"Only when it got really close and started to hit the cemetery did I leave."
"There were no people here, just graves, so why does Israel fire on this
place?" he said.
"It is just a graveyard for all people, why cannot Israel respect that?"
The war grave is the largest in the Gaza Strip, which was the theatre for several major
battles during the first world war between British and Ottoman forces.
It is the last resting place for 3,502 soldiers. Most are British, although there are
many Australians and at least 700 Turks.
Paul Price, the regional supervisor for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in
Israel, said repairs would be carried out as soon as possible.
"While we are extremely relieved that our dedicated staff are unhurt, we were
distressed to learn that Gaza War Cemetery has suffered considerable damage during the
recent fighting," he said.
"We are currently assessing the level of damage and what action may be necessary
to restore the cemetery and graves to a standard befitting the sacrifices of those buried
and commemorated there.
"The Commission will carry out the work as soon as it is possible to do so."
A spokesman for the Israeli army said that Israeli forces attacked a target
"near" the cemetery but he claimed that no Israeli shells were fired at the
cemetery. He claimed any damage there was caused when a weapons cache belonging to
militants blew up, causing secondary explosions.
While the cemetary was damaged by Israeli armed forces in 2006, it has also faced
desecration by Gazans.
Palestinian troublemakers launched an attack in 2004 to protest at the maltreatment of
Muslim prisoners by American troops in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, knocking down several
Last spring another British war grave in the Gaza Strip, located at Deir el Belah, had
its commemorative altar blown up by unknown attackers.
Palestinian militants were blamed although local police did not catch anyone.
Sunday 27th July
British Korean Veterans' Association
Annual Commemoration Day
Programme of events
Concert with Band of the Lancashire Artillery (V) and the Band of the Duke of Lancaster's
Time: 11.30 am
Time: 12.00 noon
Parade and march past
Time: 12.40 pm
Short ceremony and wreath laying
Time: 1.00 pm
Venue: Amphitheatre with parade to BKVA memorial garden for ceremony and wreath laying
by Ambassador Chun Yung-woo of the Republic of Korea to the British Veterans of the Korean
on the Occasion of the 55th Anniversary of the Korean Armistice at the
National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire (27 July 2008)
General Swindells, President of the British Korean Veterans Association, Colonel George
Gadd, National Chairman of the BKVA,
veterans of the Korean War, ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here and to see you all in good health, high spirits and rigorous
military discipline. It is a great pleasure for me to join you at this solemn thanksgiving
service to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Korean Armistice. I thank the BKVA for
organizing such a splendid event. I also thank Reverend David Brierley for conducting this
service. My thanks also go to the Combined Bands of Lancashire Artillery Band and the Band
of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment for the wonderful music they presented to us.
This may be the appropriate moment to reflect on the meaning of the Korean Armistice and
what the future holds for the Armistice.
I can proudly report to you that, despite countless violations and occasional challenges
over the past 55 years, the Armistice has held and holds today. It has served as a
cornerstone for maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula, relative and precarious as it
We know that the Armistice was not intended to be a substitute for a lasting peace. It was
initially intended to be an interim step toward a permanent peace. Unfortunately, 55 years
after the ceasefire we are still struggling to realize a permanent peace on the Peninsula.
Today, the most pressing and intractable challenge to peace and security on the Peninsula
and in Northeast Asia comes from North Korea's nuclear ambition. The Six Party Talks
(6PT), involving South and North Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan, are working hard
to denuclearize North Korea. As the ROK representative to the 6PT until three months ago,
I can report to you that we have made meaningful progress and we have a good chance of
moving forward in the path of denuclearization.
Once North Korea embarks on the final phase of denuclearization, our plan is to begin a
process of Four-Party Peace Talks involving South and North Korea, the US and China in
order to turn the existing Armistice regime into a permanent peace regime. This permanent
peace regime again will not be a substitute for the unification of the Peninsula. It will
instead be another interim regime conducive to a unified Korea. The ultimate goal of your
participation in the Korean War will be fully accomplished when Korea becomes one and
whole again so that the 24 million people in North Korea can enjoy the same freedom,
dignity and prosperity of their 48 million compatriots in the South. The ROK will do all
we can to realize this goal during your lifetime.
I take this opportunity to convey the warm greetings and sincere gratitude of the people
and government of the ROK to you all and to all those who lost their loved ones in defence
of a country so far away from home and which most of you did not know much about at the
time. We, the Korean people, remember the heroism and gallantry you displayed on the most
brutal battlefields of Korea under the most trying circumstances. We will keep deep in our
hearts your sacrifices and those of your comrades in arms who failed to return home.
Over the past 55 years, we, in the Republic of Korea, have built from the devastation of
the War a resilient, thriving democracy and a robust, vibrant market economy which is the
12th largest in the world. The ROK is now the beacon of hope of the entire North Korean
people who languish under abject poverty and a unique regime that is all too well known.
As such, the ROK has also become an important political and economic partner of the UK.
Korean troops fought together with the UK and other coalition partners against Al Qaeda in
Afghanistan until last year. We have deployed and maintain the third largest military
contingent after the UK in Iraq. Korea is also actively participating in UN peacekeeping
operations in Lebanon and is considering what more we can do for the cause of
international peace and security.
The ROK is also an active new player in official development assistance. We take our
responsibilities in international peace, security and development seriously, because we
believe this is the least we can do to pay our debt of gratitude to the UK and 15 other
nations which contributed troops to save us from our existential peril.
Apart from the fundamental turn of the fate of my own country, what you did more than 50
years ago in Korea made the world safer from communism and turned the tide of history,
eventually leading to the demise or irreversible decline of communism throughout the
The Republic of Korea will work closely with the UK to make today's world and tomorrow's
world safer from the global threat of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass
This is the additional assurance I can give you today to make sure that your sacrifices
and those of your comrades in arms who could not return home will never be in vain.
Let me conclude by wishing you all the best, good health and long life.
I hope to see you all here next year.
Mr F E Ellison OBE BEM JP
Tel: 01457 763699
Has anyone got information about this print, presumably taken from a
It was kindly sent to me in 2006, But I have unfortunately
forgotten who sent it.
I would be most grateful if that person, or whoever else has
knowledge of it,
would be so kind as to contact me. Thank you,
Charles Haynes, BKVA Webmaster.
Hidden Gems of the City of London
Thursday July 10th, 6:30pm
Invitation to BKVA Members
See Link Below
AKS London walk.pdf
Monday, January 07, 2008
Max Hastings, writing in the Guardian, states that the prime minister's visceral lack of
sympathy for his warriors is beginning to lose him public sympathy
I am drinking coffee this morning out of a mug
decorated with caricatures of wounded teddy bears in battledress. If this appears further
evidence of my depravity, I should explain that the mugs, like similar mouse mats,
keyrings and pad blocks, are sold in aid of Help For Heroes. This is a charity launched
three months ago on the initiative of a public-spirited cartoonist named Bryn Parry, who
does all the artwork for its merchandise. Its purpose is to raise £5m for facilities for
patients at the services' rehabilitatio centre at Hedley Court in Surrey, where some
of the most grievously wounded casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan transfer on leaving
hospital. Parry's efforts, aided by a team of unpaid volunteers, have already raised
£2.2m towards a new swimming pool complex. The need for this has been highlighted by the
behaviour of some civilians, who complained that the presence of Hedley Court amputees at
the nearby public baths was spoiling their enjoyment
Parry's fine campaign seems to deserve the support
even of those who oppose British commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, in the minds of
some of us, it also begs an obvious question: why is the state not funding the pool? Ah,
says a voice from the Treasury, there is a longstanding tradition of reinforcing public
health provision with charitable support, the fruits of which are visible in every
hospital in the land. True enough. But what makes Hedley Court special is that all the
occupants of its beds suffered their disabilities fighting for Queen and country
It seems extraordinary that Gordon Brown and the
Ministry of Defence can view with equanimity the spectacle of appallingly injured soldiers
dependent upon private generosity for the prospect of a swim.Yet this is, of course, of a
piece with the wider disconnection between the government and its warriors. Those at the
sharp end feel starved of resources. A brisk exchange is soon expected between the prime
minister and the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body. The AFPRB is likely to recommend a
substantial pay increase, not only to enable those in uniform to catch up with better paid
civilian public servants, but also to address difficulties of recruitment and retention.
Downing Street, however, is thought most unwilling to endorse a major hike,.This is partly
for reasons of precedent, when millions of other state employees stand in the pay queue.
But the government is also deeply irritated with the armed forces. It perceives their
senior ranks as dominated by Tory voters, apparently bent upon causing political
Those of us highly critical of the management of
defence should concede a few points to ministers. First, there has never been a moment of
British history when commanders professed themselves satisfied with their means. I
recently came across an essay written in 1969 by Professor Laurence Martin of King's
College London, entitled British Defence - the Long Recessional. Martin addressed the
perceived mismatch between British defence commitments and resources. "There is a
disturbing contrast," he wrote, "between the sophisticated precision with which
Britain's now impressive system of military management allocates the output side of
British defence policy and the crude political axeblows with which the overall size of the
effort is determined." Sound familiar? And, as it happened, 1969 policy was in the
hands of Denis Healey, the ablest defence secretary of the past 60 years. We might go back
further still, to 1958, and a letter to the Times written by a young King's College
lecturer, Michael Howard, deploring the climate of ignorance in which defence commitments
were made. "Outside the armed forces themselves there is no community of
well-informed laymen capable of or interested in developing any kind of expertise ...
Public debate is left very largely to passionate but ill ... informed ideologues of the
left, and equally passionate and barely better-informed supporters of government policy,
often themselves retired service officers, on the right."
We should not, therefore, delude ourselves that
there was ever a halcyon era in which commanders were content, and politicians
demonstrably informed and sympathetic. Moreover, the Treasury is absolutely right in
supposing that defence budgets are prey to chronic waste, most of it on ill-judged
suggest one small but useful gambit that could
deliver handsome public relations benefits to today's chiefs of staff. All three services
possess an absurdly extravagant number of senior officers. If the chiefs announced one
morning that they were axing say, a third of generals, admirals and RAF marshals - which
could be done without the slightest loss of operational effectiveness - they would
demonstrate that no stone was being left unturned to make best use of squeezed budgets.
The symbolic value of such an initiative would be out of all proportion to its financial
There are, then, a few points that the defence
secretary, Des Browne, might make to his own advantage. But none mitigates the core facts:
British forces are trying to do too much with too little in Iraq and Afghanistan; Gordon
Brown's promised 1.5% real-terms spending increase will be nowhere near enough to make the
numbers add up, without slashing something big
I suspect that the prime minister's attitude is
rooted, first, in a visceral lack of sympathy for the armed forces, whose activities he
regards as getting in the way of the real business of government. Second, he may cling to
a delusion that, once Tony Blair's imperialistic follies have been purged from the body
politic, Britain will no longer fight wars in places like Afghanistan. More soldiers will
therefore soon become unnecessary.
Yet the 21st century, which has begun
inauspiciously, is unlikely to become more stable or secure. There seems every reason to
suppose that Britain will indeed need soldiers fighting and peacekeeping abroad, hopefully
in better causes than Iraq, through the decades ahead. There are good arguments for
reducing Britain's inventories of fast jets, anti-submarine escorts, maybe even heavy
tanks. But it seems overwhelmingly likely that we shall need as many helicopters,
transport aircraft and boots on the ground as we can afford.
Britain's infantry still commands the respect of the
world, and is vital to sustaining the credibility of the armed forces. We need more
footsoldiers, and to take better care of those we have. The apparent indifference of
Gordon Brown irks the army. No government that really cared about defence would entrust
its political stewardship to the likes of Des Browne, with the added insult that he
doubles as Scottish secretary.
Until a few months ago, it seemed unlikely
that the mistreatment of defence would cost votes. The government could therefore afford
to shrug off its critics. Now, however, there are many indications that the public has
awoken to what is going on - or rather not going on - and dislikes it. The shoddy
treatment of casualties, above all, has focused attention on the soulless, often
apparently mindless, conduct of the MoD. Now that the prime minister is fighting for his
political life, he may find it prudent to offer a little Help For Heroes himself, instead
of leaving it all to Bryn Parry.
I miss you Charlie
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